Your Guide to the Best Portable Internet Options

How to keep portable internet with you wherever you go, whether it’s camping, RV-ing, road tripping, or sailing in your boat
Wi-Fi hotspot
T Mobile
T-Mobile Magenta MAX
  • pro
  • pro
    Best for truckers and campers
  • pro
    Highly portable
  • con
    Requires cell coverage
Best value pick
Visible unlimited mobile data plan
  • pro
  • pro
    Best for RVers and yachts
  • con
    Slowed speeds after 50GB
Satellite provider
Starlink RV (Starlink Roam)
  • pro
  • pro
    Wide availability
  • con

Dave Schafer
Sep 12, 2023
Icon Time To Read8 min read

The best portable internet solutions

If you spend any significant amount of time traveling, you know the irritation of trying to get and stay connected. It used to be okay—even beneficial. But these days, connectivity is necessary for so much of our day-to-day lives that going a week, or even a few days, without it can be a problem.

Many of us have taken to using our phones as portable hotspots. While this can work in a pinch, there are a few problems with the approach:

  • You don’t always have cell reception available when you need it.
  • If you do, it can be far too slow to be usable.
  • Many cell service providers limit the data you can use on a standard plan and charge extra if you exceed the limit.

Whether you’re heading out on a weekend camping trip, spending more time on your boat, or traveling the country in an RV, finding reliable internet access is important but difficult. Fortunately, you have a few options.

Wi-Fi hotspots, unlimited mobile data plans, and—of course—satellite internet are all solid ways to help alleviate your portable internet issues and keep you connected.

How much does it cost for portable Wi-Fi?

Hotspot Data
T-Mobile Go5G Plus$90.00/mo.Unlimited, with 50GB of high-speed
Mint Mobile Unlimited$30.00/mo. (for 12 months)10GB high-speed
Visible+$40.00/mo.5G speeds until 50GB
Verizon Prepaid 100GB$80.00/mo.100GB high-speed
AT&T Prepaid 100GB Data$90.00/mo.100GB high-speed
Starlink Roam$150.00/mo. (hardware $599–$2,500 one-time fee)Unlimited satellite internet

Depending on the type of portable Wi-Fi you want, the cost can range anywhere from around $30 per month to $150 per month or more.

In addition, you need equipment like satellite dishes, hotspot devices, or wireless routers. The costs vary widely—an unlimited hotspot plan for your phone doesn’t require any additional gear (beyond the phone, of course), while a Starlink setup for an RV costs between $599 and $2,500.

In other words, it depends a lot on your needs, which we’ll get into in more detail below.

T-Mobile Magenta MAX

To be honest, T-Mobile offers plenty of great hotspots and hotspot data plans, so Go5G Plus or Magenta MAX will treat you well. We've highlighted both of them but recommend Magenta MAX just a bit more because of its generous speeds, "unlimited" data, and even some great international roaming options if you want to RV across borders. Plus, T-Mobile has the largest 5G network in the nation, so you're more likely to have access to it while you RV across the country than not.

Visible unlimited plan

Visible's unlimited cell phone data plan gives you access to 5G speeds for a full 50GB before you'll experience any throttling or slowed speeds (you will experience this with all "unlimited" plans, by the way—unlimited speeds doesn't mean unlimited fastest speeds, so there's a cap on how much priority data you get). Visible's unlimited plan is also one of the best priced, so if you can be comfortable hotspotting from your phone's data while traveling the nation, this is the plan for you.

Starlink RV

Satellite internet for RVs used to be too expensive and unreliable to be worth the hassle, but Starlink RV, newly renamed to Starlink Roam, has offered a new way to get fast speeds on the go. We highly recommend it—if it's available in your area or an area you want to go. For more details, check out our more in-depth breakdown below.

Internet for RVs (Starlink Roam)

starlink moving over joshua tree

RVs present an interesting situation for internet. You may want access in remote locations, but you also need access while moving, which requires specific equipment. Wi-Fi and mobile hotspots work well while moving, but coverage in remote areas can be spotty. On the other hand, satellite is ideal for use in remote locations, but it requires specialized (and expensive) equipment to get a signal on the go.

For this reason, we have a few different recommendations for RV owners to consider:

Starlink for RVs

If you take your RV into rural or remote places and need internet access there, Starlink Roam is the way to go. You can opt for a standard setup with portable gear that’s fairly reasonably priced, or—if you think you want access on the move—you can jump up to the in-motion Starlink satellite hardware for the ultimate RV internet experience.

Mobile hotspots for RVs

If you’re mostly using the internet in areas with decent cell coverage, we recommend Mint Mobile or T-Mobile RV internet options to use your phone as a hotspot. Both get you speedy wireless internet access with unlimited data, so you can stream to your heart’s content. Best of all, both work while the RV is moving, without dishing out thousands of dollars for special antennas.

RV internet tips

If you want Starlink Roam, just remember Starlink Roam and Starlink residential aren't the same thing, so be careful when you choose the right one when you sign up. As a general guide, Starlink Roam tends to be slower than Starlink Residential, but Starlink Roam doesn't have a waitlist like residential does in some areas. Once you're signed up with either, all you'll need is the Starlink app to guide your Starlink installation. Most people say it's fairly easy, but check out our Starlink Customer Service guide if you run into any problems. 

If you go the mobile hotspot route for your RV, just remember that T-Mobile Home Internet isn't the same thing as its hotspot RV internet options. T-Mobile Home Internet is meant for a fixed location, and moving it from your home address will break the terms of service, so you could get booted from it.

For other hotspots like Mint Mobile's, just make sure you have an unlimited plan with enough high-speed data for your needs. And, of course, that your provider allows you to turn your phone into a hotspot that other devices can attach to. 

Internet for boats

Woman with laptop computer on sailing yacht.

Boating takes all the challenges of RVs and kicks them up a couple notches. Unless you’re sitting in port for an extended period of time, your boat is rarely stationary. If you go out far at all, you almost certainly lose your cell coverage. Lastly, smaller boats may not have a convenient spot to mount a satellite dish, further limiting your options.

As such, the best option for your boat depends a lot on how you use it. If your yacht or other large vessel has space for satellite dishes, you can opt for the exorbitantly expensive Starlink Maritime satellite internet for boats. This gets you the best boating internet experience currently available. It also costs $5,000 per month, plus another $10,000 up front for hardware.

For the rest of us, a portable hotspot is the way to go. Nomad is a solid choice if you spend enough time on the water to justify a separate device. If you just need the hotspot occasionally, a mobile hotspot plan should be plenty—we like Mint Mobile.

Internet for truckers

trucker using tablet beside semi

Truckers that spend a lot of time on the road need internet that’s fast and reliable, but it also needs to be able to work in rural areas and truck stops out in the middle of nowhere. However, satellite isn’t necessarily practical—carting a dish and providing power to a modem are inconvenient at best and impossible at worst.

For that reason, a Wi-Fi hotspot is almost certainly the best internet option for truckers. The catch is finding one that works well outside of urban areas. Verizon is a good bet here—it’s known for coverage in spots other providers might not reach. T-Mobile is improving as it rolls out nationwide 5G, but it’s still not quite there in our opinion.

Internet for camping

woman Getting wifi while camping

With camping, the challenges are mainly about getting consistent access—many prime camp spots, like national parks, are in cellular dead zones with little to no service. For that reason, it’s hard to nail down a single best camping option.

Generally, we recommend a mobile hotspot simply for portability. Portable satellite dishes and routers can be a pain to lug around. On the other hand, satellite will likely get better reception, so it’s definitely a tradeoff.

What is the best Wi-Fi hotspot for camping?

A Verizon hotspot and accompanying plan are likely to be the best option for campers. Verizon tends to have excellent coverage in areas that T-Mobile doesn't, and this may include some campgrounds and backcountry areas where you might be hiking or camping.

Is portable internet possible?

Yes! Portable internet is very possible. Thanks to advances in cellular and satellite technology, you can get surprisingly great performance for a reasonable price.

That said, there are some caveats: satellite internet is generally slower and more expensive than cable or fiber service, and cellular internet requires coverage from nearby towers, so you may not be able to take it everywhere you go. However, we’re a lot closer to that reality than we were a few years ago.

How does portable Wi-Fi work?

Most portable Wi-Fi is based on cellular networks—the same type of signal used by your phone. The signal is picked up either by your phone itself or a portable hotspot (essentially a modem for cell signals) and then broadcast as a Wi-Fi signal. At that point, your devices won’t see any difference between the portable network and your home Wi-Fi connection.

Does portable Wi-Fi work without service?

No—portable Wi-Fi requires a solid connection to a mobile network to function. If you pass through a dead zone or otherwise lose that connection, you’ll lose the Wi-Fi.

How long does portable Wi-Fi last?

That depends entirely on your power source. If you’re able to plug into an outlet, your phone or hotspot can continue broadcasting the Wi-Fi network indefinitely—or, at least, as long as your data plan allows. If you’re on battery power, you’ll be more limited. Hotspots can last up to 10 hours, but your phone’s battery may die long before then.

What is the best portable internet service?

In most cases, a portable hotspot from a cell provider like Mint Mobile or Verizon will be the best option. This gives you access to fast internet on the go, without burning through your phone’s battery.

If phone battery life isn’t a concern, a hotspot add-on plan from your cell provider might be more convenient, since you won’t have to worry about carting around an extra device. Finally, users who need portable internet in remote places will probably get more mileage out of a satellite internet plan from a provider like Starlink.

What is Pocket Wi-Fi?

Pocket Wi-Fi is basically just a fancy term for a small mobile hotspot. The idea is that it could fit in your pocket—get it? This could apply to a dongle, a small hotspot device, or even your smartphone.

Which is better: prepaid Wi-Fi or Pocket Wi-Fi?

These are really two different things—prepaid Wi-Fi refers to a type of internet plan where you pay for the month ahead, rather than paying for what you used the previous month. Pocket Wi-Fi, on the other hand, refers to a type of wireless hotspot device. Technically, you could have a prepaid plan for your pocket Wi-Fi device.

Mobile vs. Portable internet: What is meant by mobile Internet?

The phrase “mobile internet” usually refers to internet access gained using a cellular network, like what you have on your smartphone. These days, this means 4G LTE or 5G. Other types of internet can be “mobile”—satellite, for example, can be accessed on the go with in-motion antennas. However, this is obviously much more difficult to take with you than cellular networks.

Is mobile internet as good as Wi-Fi?

It can be—it largely depends on what type of mobile internet you have access to. Mobile networks have gotten a lot faster in recent years as 5G coverage rolls out around the country, but there are still spots where you can’t get a decent signal.

Wi-Fi can provide a more stable signal, but whether it’s faster depends on the speed of the internet plan it’s pulling from—some DSL and satellite plans may well be slower than LTE or 5G mobile internet.

Portable internet FAQ

Does Airbnb have Wi-Fi?

Many, if not most, Airbnb rentals will have Wi-Fi access. Ultimately, it’s up to the hosts of the Airbnb whether they want to offer it or not—often, the listing will highlight if they do.

That said, using these networks could pose a security risk—the host has the password as well, and could therefore see the activity on the network. For this reason, bringing your own hotspot could be a good idea.

Can mobile data replace home internet?

Yes, with the right plan. In fact, many mobile providers are now offering home internet packages that use 4G LTE or 5G data.

The speeds are often more than fast enough—the main consideration is data usage. If you use your home network heavily, such as for frequent video streaming, you may want to opt for an unlimited plan.

Can I get internet through my cell phone provider?

Many cell phone providers now offer home internet, including Verizon and T-Mobile. This is essentially a hotspot for your home, feeding high-speed 4G LTE or 5G data to your devices. The prices are often quite reasonable, too. For example, T-Mobile’s plans start at just $30 per month.

What happens if you use mobile data instead of Wi-Fi?

Essentially, nothing—mobile data and Wi-Fi work more or less the same. You may see a speed difference if you’re in an area without high-speed mobile data coverage. The main thing to watch for is accidentally using up a limited mobile data plan—Wi-Fi won’t count towards that limit.

Dave Schafer
Written by
Dave Schafer
Dave has written professionally for tech companies and consumer technology sites for nearly five years, with a special focus on TV and internet. He uses his industry expertise to help readers at get the most out of their services. No matter the project, he prefers his coffee black (the stronger, the better).